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CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)

It’s time for the CCTV 2018 New Year’s Gala – follow the highlights and the low points here.

Manya Koetse

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It is time for the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, one of the most-watched, most-discussed, and most mocked lived television events in the world, taking place on the Lunar New Year’s Eve. What’s on Weibo discusses the ins & outs of the 2018 edition and the social media frenzy surrounding it in this live blog.

Check out our CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog here.

The biggest live televised event in the world, the CCTV New Year’s Gala, also known as the Spring Festival Gala or Chunwan (春晚), is a true social media spectacle. On February 15th 2018, the 36th edition of the 4-hour-long live production is taking place.

The show, that is organized and produced by the state-run CCTV since 1983, is not just a way for millions of viewers to celebrate the Lunar New Year (除夕); it is also an important opportunity for the Communist Party to communicate official ideology to the people and to showcase the nation’s top performers.

Watch the live stream here on What’s on Weibo (if you have no access to YouTube, please check the CCTV live stream here).

What’s on Weibo provides you with the ins & outs of the 2018 Gala and its social media frenzy, with updates before, during and after the show. Follow our liveblog below (we recommend you keep your browser open – you’ll hear a ‘beep’ when updated). (Note: this live blog is now closed, thank you!).

 
15/02 10:17 About the Gala (3,5 hours to go!)

Just 3,5 hours to go before the start of the show, so we have the time to tell you a bit more on the Gala if you’re not so familiar with it. Since its very first airing in 1983, the Spring Festival Gala has captured an audience of millions. In 2010, the live Gala had a viewership of 730 million; in 2014, it had reached a viewership of 900 million, making the show much bigger in terms of viewership than, for example, the Super Bowl.

As viewer ratings of the show in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year-on-year. In 2016, the criticism was so overwhelming that CCTV’s official Weibo account even temporarily shut the comment section on the show. The show lasts a total of 4 hours, and has around 30 different acts, from dance to singing and acrobatics. The acts that are both most-loved and most-dreaded are the comic sketches (小品) and crosstalk (相声); they are usually the funniest, but also convey the most political messages. (The controversial 2017 CCTV Spring Gala sketch ‘Long Last Love’ where a woman wants to divorce her husband for not being able to conceive.) For the general viewers and social media users, mocking the show has become so commonplace that the sentence “There’ll never be a worst, just worse than last year” (“央视春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂”) has become a well-known idiom connected to the Gala.

 
15/02 12:29 What can we expect of the CCTV Gala this year?

It’s almost show time! Tonight’s show will feature a total of 42 acts over a time span of 4 hours. Like last year, the show will be broadcasted from various places besides its main venue in Beijing’s CCTV’s No.1 Studio. Central to the theme of this year’s Gala is China’s rising power, reflecting on both the Silk Road and the 40 Year Anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform Policy. What is noteworthy about tonight’s programme is its many Taiwanese performers – a majority of tonight’s big name singers are Taiwanese. Also noteworthy is that although “innovation “ is key to the Gala’s theme tonight, it has many of the same presenters as previous years. Also, one of the acts that drew a lot of attention last year, namely Jackie Chan performing a song named “Nation”, seems to be repeated in a way: Jackie Chan will perform a song titled “China” tonight.. The song drew critique last year for being too political. According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia, including the performance of different revolutionary songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There is No New China” (没有共产党就没有新中国). Although there are no titles of tonight’s acts that explicitly mention the Party, we can probably expect the same complaints on Chinese social media.

 
15/02 12:28 Can You Spot ‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ Tonight?

The CCTV Gala is an annual source of memes on Chinese social media. One person who went viral last year is “‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ (#春晚笑脸哥#)”. Directly after the ending of the CCTV Gala in 2017, many Weibo netizens discussed one person in the audience – observant viewers have spotted the very same man in the audience of the CCTV Gala every year since 1999. The man was nicknamed ‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ (#春晚笑脸哥#) because he always smiles.

Many netizens are extremely curious about the man, wondering how he came to sit from the back of the audience to the front crowd throughout the years. Some also compliment him for not having changed much over the past 18 years. If you spot him tonight, let us know!

 
15/02 12:57 Tonight’s CCTV Gala Venues

Like last year, the show will be broadcasted from various places besides its main venue in Beijing’s CCTV’s No.1 Studio, namely from Qiandongnan, an autonomous prefecture in the southeast of Guizhou province, Zhuhai (Guangdong), Qufu (Shandong), Tai’an (Shandong), and Sanya (Hainan).

It is a tradition for the Gala to have subvenues where it broadcasts from. In 2016, the Gala was aired from Quanzhou, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hulun Buir. In 2017, it was broadcasted from Harbin, Guilin, Shanghai and Liangshan. Every city has its own hosts, who often welcome the audiences in their own local dialect or language, with performances that are related to the region. In 2016, the spectacular performance of singer Sun Nan (孙楠) who danced with 540 moving robots, for example, reinforced the image of Guangdong as the home of China’s tech startups.

 
15/02 13:07 Here We Go! “China’s Colorful Years”

The show has begun! In this opening act, that presents the years of PRC history as “thousands of purples and reds” (“万紫千红中国年”), there are various artists from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. From Hong Kong, there is the award-winning singer and actress Joey Jung (容祖儿). From Taiwan, there’s the former F4 pop group member Vic Chou. Other artists in this opening act are Phoenix Legend (凤凰传奇), a Chinese popular music duo of female vocalist Yangwei Linghua and male rapper Zeng Yi, actress and TV anchor Hu Ke with husband actor Sha Yi, and others.

 
15/02 13:15 The Presenters

The presenters now welcome everyone to the Gala. This year’s presenters of the Gala are Kang Hui (康辉), Zhu Xun (朱迅), Ren Luyu (任鲁豫), Li Sisi (李思思), and Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买). Three of them, namely Kang, Zhu, and Raxman, were also presenters in the 2017 New Year’s Gala. All of the hosts are familiar CCTV faces.

The ladies:

Zhu Xun (1973) is a well-known presenter and actress from Suzhou, who is presenting the Gala for a 5th time now. Li Sisi (1986) is the youngest presenter tonight; she is a Chinese television host and media personality most known for her role as host of the Gala since 2012.

The gentlemen:

Kang Hui (1972) is a Hebei-born influential CCTV news anchor. Ren Luyu (1978) is a Chinese television host from Henan, and he has previously presented the Gala in 2010 and 2016. Nëghmet (1983) is a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who also is not a newcomer; he hosted the Gala since 2015.

In the subvenues, there will be different hosts, but most of them are also familiar faces (so far goes the “new” theme of tonight…):

Guizhou: Ma Yue (CCTV) and Dou Aili (Guizhou radio and television host).

Guangdong: Yang Fan (CCTV) and Gui Jiachen (Zhuhai TV).

Shandong (Qufu & Tai’an): Li Jiaming (CCTV), Li Yi (Shandong radio and television).

Hainan: Zhang Zequn (CCTV), Wang Si (Hainan radio and television host.

 
15/02 13:14 Director & Theme: Chinese Values, Chinese Power

While we are watching the spectacles across the different venues, a little bit about the director and theme of tonight’s show. After themes such as the “Chinese Dream” and “Family Affinity”, this year’s theme revolves around “Chinese values, Chinese power.” One of the most important dimensions of this year is that it commemorates the 40-year-anniversary of China’s Economic Reform Policies (改革开放) initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978.

This year’s director is Yang Dongsheng (杨东升) from Guangdong (see picture below), who is directing the Gala for the second year in a row. According to Sina News, the word “NEW” is central to this year’s Gala. As we’ve seen in last years, with spectacular Avatar-like settings for dance and singing acts in 2017, and the 540-dancing-robots-act in 2016, the display of ‘innovation’ in entertainment has become an important new characteristic for the Gala.

 
15/02 13:19 “Happy Holiday” Dance (All Venues)

In this first act across all venues there are people from several countries, including China, Russia, and the UK. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative also plays an important role tonight, so a more international programme can be expected. One of the main dancers here is Aoyue Zhang (张傲月), the winner of “So You Think You Can Dance China” and the “Most Popular Chinese Dancer.”

 
15/02 14:17 Sketch: “Real or Fake Teacher”

This is the first comical sketch tonight, and we can expect many more to come. Last year, many people could not appreciate the message constructed in the Gala’s sketches that emphasized the woman’s role as mother and wife, such as the narrative where a woman depended on her husband’s money or the one where a wife wanted to let her husband divorce her because she could not conceive children (which was in a sketch titled ‘Long Last Love’ 真情永驻). Many felt the sketches propagated women to have children, some said they depicted women as “breeding machines.”

This sketch features a house cleaner who is hired by a young man to pretend to be his mother for a teacher’s family visit, since his own parents work and live abroad. But then it turns out his father is not abroad at all- he pays his son a surprise visit. The boy is not doing well at school in terms of his behavior. A moral of the story is the student are not always to blame; the parents are also responsible.

 
15/02 13:39 “Chunwan Roast” Hashtag Censored on Weibo

The CCTV Gala has not even reached its first hour, and already the hashtag “Spring Festival Gala Roast” (春晚吐槽) has been censored on Weibo.

Mocking the CCTV Gala has become a tradition over the years. As aforementioned in this liveblog, “There’ll never be a worst, just worse than last year,” is an idiom that always comes up in relation to the Gala.

On Weibo, netizens are not happy that the hashtag used to mock the Gala has been censored.

 
15/02 13:47 Song “Praise The New Era”

The title of this song is representative of tonight’s theme – CCTV is pushing the “new era” (新时代) as a concept on social media too – they even have a separate section for the hashtag on Weibo.

One of the singers here is the popular Chinese singer and actor Li Yifeng (1987), who broke into entertainment after competing in the “2007 My Hero” talent search. He is accompanied by actress Jing Tian (1988) and Maggie Jiang (Jiang Shuying, 1986).

 
20/02 13:03 Sketch “Driving Class”

Another sketch, of which there will be many tonight. This one features famous actors Cai Ming, Jia Bing and Pan Changjiang.

The sketch is about an older couple, whose love and relationship is inspiring a younger driving instructor. The older lady’s husband only has another three months before he turns 70, and they want to learn how to drive a car in order to make a big magical road trip together. It encourages the driving instructor to convey his feelings to his true love.

 
15/02 14:03 Move over to Guizhou!

Guizhou’s Qiandongnan is the first subvenue to be featured tonight. This first song, the “Joyous Song” was performed by the Liping County Singing Group, which belongs to the ethnic minority of Dong. The Kam a.k.a. Dong (侗) are a Kam–Sui people of southern China, and they are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China. They are famous for their carpentry skills, unique architecture, and sweet rice.

Amidst the spectacular scenes we see Taiwan singer Lin Zhixuan (林志炫), better known as Terry Lin (1966), who performs a song titled “The Drums of the Sun.”

The singer Ayouduo (阿幼朵) is a famous Hmong/Miao singer, she sings the song titled the “Sunset Duet.”

 
5/02 14:06 Jay Chou and Will Tsai

One of the most-anticipated acts tonight. The song “Love Confession Balloon” is a song by Jay Chou, who is on stage here. Jay Chou is a Taiwanese singer who is also called “Asia’s King of Pop.” He is joined here by Taiwanese-Canadian magician Will Tsai (蔡威泽), who participated in America’s Got Talent in 2017.

Will Tsai magically makes Jay Chou appear on stage.

 
15/02 14:10 PUBLIC SERVICE AD: PROSPEROUS HOME COUNTRY

During the CCTV Gala, there will be several two-minute public service ads that reflect on important societal issues and propagate government messages. This is the first one, in which dogs play a central role, since, obviously, the Year of the Dog is about the start in just a few hours.

 
15/02 14:26 The Children’s Song

Every year at the Gala, there will be a special performance focused on the kids. While it was dancing vegetables last year, this year sees dancing panda bears and dogs.

 
15/02 14:31 Comical Sketch: “Returning Home”

We’ve come to the 11th act of tonight, featuring Taiwanese actors Fang Fang, Zhang Chenguang, Du Zhulin, and also Wang Ji. This item is about coming home for New Year’s, in which we see a familly who bought towels from Taiwan to give to their Shandong family – but the towels are actually made in Shandong.

Last year, the Gala drew some criticism for featuring too many northern Chinese dialects. This year is significantly different, as the various acts have already presented various different dialects from across China. The actors in this sketch use a Taiwanese accent/dialect.

In general, this year’s show’s focus on Taiwan is really remarkable; not just in terms of singers coming from Taiwan but also the sketches using storylines that include Taiwan. It is especially noteworthy that this sketch’s title is “homecoming” or “returning home”, suggesting the ‘homecoming’ of Taiwan to the mainland.

The moral of this sketch is that people from Taiwan have never forgotten their “Chinese roots”, and that Taiwan and mainland China have an unbreakable connection.

 
15/02 15:01 The Reunion Between Faye Wong and Natasha Na

Another act tonight that was a much-anticipated one is this one featuring singer Wang Fei aka Faye Wong and Chinese vocalist Natasha Na (那英). The act is seen as a “reunion” between two of China’s greatest singers after 20 years. In 1998, a cooperation between the two on the very same stage was a great success across China.

 
15/02 14:53 Silk Road Painting Returns to Beijing

A special item in today’s program is the “homecoming” of a Chinese painting on the Silk Road – which clearly emphasizes the One Belt One Road theme. On stage are Chinese director Zhang Guoli and the Department Head of Palace Museum Shan Jixiang.

The painting is over 30 meters long and has been abroad for a long time. It is now “returning to the motherland” after it has been bought by the billionaire Xu Rongmao – he has donated it to the museum to “protect China’s heritage.” Those who are interested can watch the details of the painting the Palace Museum official website tomorrow.

The ensuing dance to this ceremony also focuses on the Silk Road.

 
15/02 15:12 Comical Sketch “Objections”

Depending on where you are live-streaming the Gala from (iQiyi, CCTV website, and YouTube channel all have some slight differences in airing the live event), we have now reached the 15th act of tonight, which is another comical sketch. This year, the Gala is featuring quite a lot of sketches; six in total.

Another genre is the ‘crosstalk’, which we’ll see later in this show. This particular act critiques doing business through “taolu” (套路), Chinese routines to do certain things according to ‘secret’ rules instead of taking the official road; it also suggests that leaders are spending too much time talking and socializing rather than actually doing things. The female protagonist in this act is actually giving the good example, who is all about cutting down on useless meetings, keeping in touch with the common people, and being open to more suggestions.

 
15/02 15:11 Over to Zhuhai, Guangdong Now!

After Guizhou, it is now time to shine for the subvenue in Shandong’s Qufu and Tai’an. While the song “Courage” is sung, we see some serious acts going on with motorcycles jumping through fire.

Really so many Taiwanese singers tonight! During this act we see Canadian-Taiwanese vocalist Pai Weijun (派伟俊) aka Patrick Brasca, who is a pop singer and songwriter known for singing the theme song “Try” of the film Kung Fu Panda 3.

 
15/02 15:22 “My Spring Festival, My Year”

It is remarkable how few traditional Communist-themed acts we’ve seen thus far. During the 17th act of the night, we see Wang Kai and Yang Yang with a sentimental song about the years passing by. It really suits the evening, which is also about looking back on the past 40 years since the Reform Policies and the “rise of China.”

Noteworthy: the children on stage are so-called “left-behind children” (留守儿童) from rural areas who are separated from parents who are working in remote urban areas. Earlier this year, the case of the “Yunnan Ice Boy” increased awareness of the difficult and poor conditions many of these children are in.

 
15/02 15:18 Here Comes the Crosstalk

This is the night’s first crosstalk (相声) scene. Different from the other sketches (小品), crosstalk usually involves two actors with one being the “joker” and the other being the “teaser”.

The actor in the middle, Feng Gong (冯巩), is one of China’s most renowned xiangsheng performers. He is best known for his performances in this CCTV New Year’s Gala, and has made more appearances on the show than any other major performer.

 
15/02 15:29 Song “Mountain Laughter”

There are many young vocalists tonight, but Lu Jihong and Zhang Ye are among the more traditional singers tonight.

 
15/02 15:40 CHINA by Jackie Chan!

Here he is again together with Wu Jin! Last year, Jackie Chan’s much-anticipated appearance on the show turned out to be somewhat cringeworthy. The Hong Kong singer and kung fu star showed his love for China through a song that was simply titled “Nation” (国家). In this act, the Hong Kong celebrity stood in front of an enormous Chinese flag together with students from the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, as well as ethnic minorities.

Although the use of sign language by all the performers was praiseworthy, the song came after a night that had already seen many big flags, many dancing minorities, and the message of China’s national unity was already – not so subtly – propagated at every possible opportunity. Many netizens, however, did like the performance; some even claimed it was their “favorite act of the night.”

This time, Jackie again sings a somewhat cringeworthy song that is just titled “China” and which praises China and how much the singers love their motherland. The dancers in the back form the character ‘Zhong” for Zhongguo (China).

 
15/02 15:35 Is This Show Really Live?

Is this really live? Yes it is. But although the Gala is a live broadcast from CCTV’s No.1 Studio, and its other venues across China, every year’s show has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal. The tape of the official rehearsal runs together with the live broadcast, so that in the event of a problem or disruption, the producers can seamlessly switch to the taped version without TV audiences noticing anything.

 
15/02 15:45 Moving Over To Shandong

After the Gala’s traditional martial arts segment, we now move over to Shandong, where the song “Descendents of the Dragons” (龙的传人) is performed by Huang Xiaoming (黃曉明, 1977) and Hong singer Wallace Chung, Taiwan singer Jerry Yan, and Macao singer Xia Li’ao (夏利奥).

This is followed by the piano concert ‘Ode to the Yellow River’ played by the 35-year-old Chinese classical pianist Li Yundi and award-winning Chopin specialist Sa Chen (1979).

 
15/02 15:54 Piece of Africa?

Back to Beijing. Or well….dozens of African dancers join the stage with lions and zebras to do a Loin King type of act, but it seems somewhat misplaced? Wait, let’s see…

It is a ‘xiaopin’, one of the night’s short sketches, and it takes places in Africa, focusing on the new railway connections (emphasizing the One Belt, One Road intiative). On Twitter and Weibo, however, the sketch is receiving some critique.

 
15/02 16:15 Some more images of the Africa sketch

The title of the sketch is “Share the same Joy and Happiness《同喜同乐》and is actually meant to promote China-Africa relations. Not sure if it worked…Many reactions on social media deeming the sketch “racist.”

 
15/02 16:09 27th Act Tonight…

This is the night’s first Chinese opera segment featuring one of China’s leading Peking-Opera artists: Meng Guanglu.

 
15/02 16:13 Remembering 40th Anniversary of China’s Reform & Opening-up

In this song, titled “Rise Again”, China’s Reform and Opening-up policy of 1978 is commemorated. The singer Han Lei is accompanied on stage by a group of young dancers wearing a red scarf. The images in the back display images representing a developing China.

 
15/02 16:44 Running from one act to the next

Just a bit more than 30 minutes to go before the clock strikes twelve! Meanwhile, tonight’s 4-hour-show seems to proceed with unusual speed, moving from one item to the next within minutes or even seconds.

After a (very brief!) moment to honor some of China’s “model workers”, it is time for some acrobatics. The act “Above the Waves” features the athlete Hu Shi.

On Twitter, meanwhile, discussions on the Africa sketch continue…

 
15/02 16:27 “New Start of Happiness” Song

It is time for Sun Nan to hit the stage again. The Chinese mandopop singer stole the show in 2016 when he danced with 540 robotsduring the Gala. This time, no robots, just Tan Weiwei (谭维维) aka Sitar Tan, a famous Chinese singer and actress.

 
15/02 16:33 Time for the Last Subvenue: Sanya

Some spectacular and dreamy scenes from the city of Sanya, in Hainan. First on piano we hear the song “New Silk Road”, completely in sync with tonight’s themes, played while floating on water. This is followed by the song: “To Brave the Wind and the Billows” (乘风破浪).

 
15/02 16:37 Military Acrobatics?!

This scene featuring acrobatics and dance with Pan Yuexin (潘跃新) in the lead is quite noteworthy as it has a strong emphasis on China’s military expansion.

 
15/02 17:18 China’s “Promise with 2035”

This song, titled “I have a promise/meeting with 2035” is quite representative of tonight’s gala, which is focused on China’s past decades of development and its rise.

The song is brought by the TFBoys, who have been very successful in China over the past years. They also appeared at last year’s Gala, and won the Weibo Awards for being the most popular on Chinese social media, for which they received nearly 63 million votes. Their performance here tonight might make it more appealing for younger audiences to watch the New Year’s Gala, which generally has a somewhat stuffy image.

Chinese futurologists are planning for the PRC to surpass the US to become the most important country in the world by around 2035, when its socialist modernization is expected to be “completed.”

 
15/02 16:56 A Different Chord Indeed!

In the last minutes before the new year, the swinging song “Not a Common Chord” is performed by Taiwanese singer Jam Hsiao, and exquisite vocalists Tia Ray and Dimash Kudaibergen. Actually a really funky song and uncommonly cool and danceable for the CCTV Gala.

 
15/02 17:06 A New Year, A New Era

Happy New Year everyone! Just before and after the twelve o’clock moment, there is a clear focus on “China’s New Era”, a theme that is reiterated throughout the Gala tonight – emphasizing that time does not just mark a new year but also a new phase in the modernization of China.

 
15/02 17:16 East, West, China is Best

The third – and last – public service ad of tonight was titled “Fragrant Hometown” and focused on people living abroad or away from home and coming back to their hometowns and families, where everything is warm, loving, and fragrant. The service ad sends out a message that there is no place like (Chinese) home.

 
15/02 17:35 “Bright Shoes” Dance Act

A pretty cool and original dance act in the final minutes of tonight’s show, performed by the dancers of the Langzhong Spring Festival Culture and Folk Art Troupe, Xinghai Conservatory of Music, the Wuhan Art Troupe, and Sichuan University.

 
15/02 17:41 “I Love you China”

After the night’s last segment of sketch comedy and dance act, the 42nd performance of tonight, and the last song before the Gala’s traditional closing song, is by main singers Zhang Yingxi and Jin Tingting, accompanied by a group of international (opera) singers from, amongst others, Italy, USA, and Russia.

While the song is playing, we see images of people waving the Chinese flag and military staff.

 
15/02 17:44 It’s a Wrap: Unforgettable Night

The last song of this night is “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵). It is sung by the 73-year-old singer and dancer Li Guyi (李谷一) together with Huo Yong, Liu Yuxin, and Tang Fei.

Li Guyi sings the same song every year at the end of this show. The last song ends with all performers of the Beijing venue on stage. The hosts wish everyone a happy new year. It’s a wrap!

By Manya Koetse, with contributions via WeChat from Boyu Xiao, Diandian Guo, and Tim Peng

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    Andrea Ismail

    February 19, 2018 at 10:04 am

    So just asking, why in the song part with Dimash, Tia and Haiso, you only has Tia and Haiso picture but not Dimash. In fact he was the one that stood out on social media, is it fair to only put Tia and Haiso picture on your Blog but not Dimash. I don’t think so that is really how he is used for his talent but you can’t even put his picture.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Zheng Shuang, Zhang Heng, and ‘Surrogacy Gate’: A Timeline

One celebrity couple breakup, two children born through surrogacy: this sad and messy topic has exploded on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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A celebrity surrogacy scandal is dominating discussions on Chinese social media, with one hashtag on the case attracting over 3 4 billion views. The scandal is triggering discussions on the topic of surrogacy in China.

Her name is Zheng Shuang (郑爽, 29), his name is Zhang Heng (张恒, 30). They’re both celebrities in China; she is a super famous actress, he is a well-known producer.

This week, it is not their work that made them go viral on Chinese social media, but a surrogacy scandal taking place in the United States that is dominating all trending lists on Weibo.

Zheng and Zhang in happier times.

The social media storm started on Monday, January 18, when rumors surfaced on Weibo and Wechat that the celebrity couple had separated. Some netizens had located a ‘dissolution’ case concerning the couple through the public access of the US federal court system.

Subsequently, news and rumors began circulating that the couple had two children in the US through a surrogacy arrangement, but that actress Zheng Shuang refused to have them because she and Zhang had broken up – even though her name was on their birth certificate.

The topic soon became known as the Zheng Shuang ‘Surrogacy Gate’ (郑爽”代孕门”).

Chinese media outlet Netease Entertainment published images of the children’s birth certificates and confirmed through sources close to producer Zhang Heng that he was stranded in the United States with the two babies, unable to bring them back to China with him since Ms Zheng allegedly did not cooperate with the necessary legal procedures.

It was Zhang Heng himself who spoke out about the situation on his Weibo account (@张恒KN) on January 18. He wrote the following post:

“Hi everyone, I’m Zhang Heng. Long time no see. As everyone has seen, I again hit the hot search lists recently. Since the past year or so, there has been baseless slander, disrespect, and endless online violence against me on the internet. My family is also frustrated, helpless, and mentally exhausted because of my problems. There’s no way to lead a normal life or to socialize normally. We’re unable to reunite because of this. I really feel so, so bad.   

I realize I can’t bury my head in the sand any longer. Because it’s not just me facing everything; it’s also my cherished family members. I’ve decided to speak up, for my family and for myself, and to set the record straight. 

The online rumors about me committing fraud, borrowing from loan sharks, evading debts, taking funds and slinking off to America, etc –  they’re all rumors and I swear I’ve never done these things, nor would I ever do them. It is true that I am in America, but my family and I have been in the United States for over a year because we had to take care of and protect our two young and innocent children. We had no choice but to remain here.

I have hired a lawyer to handle related matters, and I believe the actual facts will be restored by the American and Chinese courts. Finally, I hope the media and righteous people can recognize the truth in this matter, and will not be blinded by internet rumors.” 

The children caught up in this scandal are one girl, born on January 4 2020, registered in the state of Nevada; and a boy, born on December 19 2019, registered in the state of Colorado. The birth certificates that were leaked to Chinese media show both Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang as the legal parents of the two babies.

Also leaked to Chinese media is an older audio recording in which Zheng, Zhang, and both of their parents allegedly discuss what to do with their unborn babies. In the voice recording, Zheng’s side argues that the children should be given up for adoption, with Zheng herself even complaining that the babies could not be aborted because the surrogate mothers were already seven months pregnant.

On January 19, Zheng Shuang herself also responded to the matter on Weibo (@郑爽SZ), where she did not address the matter directly but said that this is “a very sad and private matter that I did not want to discuss in front of everybody.” She further wrote that legal teams in China and the US “never gave up defending the legal rights of me and my family since last year.”

Zheng Shuang, image via Sohu.

Of the two former partners, Zheng is the most famous celebrity. Born in Shenyang in 1991, she rose to fame when she starred in a popular TV series in 2009 (Meteor Shower 一起来看流星雨). She became an award-winning actress and was chosen as one of the most bankable young actresses of the post-90s generation. On her Weibo account, she has over 12.4 million followers.

 

‘Surrogacy Gate’: The Timeline


 

While this case is unfolding in front of netizens’ eyes and through their own research, more and more details are coming up.

Money plays a major role in the falling-out between Zheng and Zhang, and a private lending dispute – involving no less than 20 million yuan (around 3 million dollars) – seems to be one of the reasons for their break-up.

Since the story is somewhat messy and complicated, we will attempt to reconstruct a timeline of events here.
 

TIMELINE:

2018, May
• Zheng and Zhang meet on the set of the variety show This Is Fighting Robots (这就是铁甲), where Zhang does the show’s production. Weeks later, intimate photos of the two surface online.

2018, August
• The couple officially announces their relationship status and start a company together.

2018, November
• Ms Zheng allegedly loans Mr Zhang 20 million yuan ($3 million).

2019, January 19
• Zheng and Zhang ‘secretly’ get married in the United States on January 19 of 2019. Zheng’s dog, “Wolfberry Kris” (@枸杞kris), has its own Weibo account where some ‘wedding photos’ of the joyous occasion are shared on this day.

2019, Fall/Winter
• Zhang and Zheng both appear on the TV show Meeting Mr. Right (女儿们的恋爱).

• An annual report of Zhang and Zheng’s entertainment-meets-tech company, a joint business venture named Shanghai Whale Valley AI Tech (上海鲸谷座人工智能科技有限公司), shows that Zheng Shuang invested over 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) while Zhang – the company’s legal representative – only contributed 200,000 yuan ($30,800).

2019, September
• In a Weibo post of January 2021, Zheng Shuang claims that Zhang cheated on her in September of 2019, which is why she left the US and went back to China.

2019, October 31
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang go viral on Chinese social media when Zhang writes a love song for Zheng, and publicly announces his love for her (#张恒给郑爽写歌#).

2019, December 18
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang announce their breakup, and rumors suggest that the two are caught up in a dispute over money.

2019, December 19
• The son of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Colorado.

2020, January
• The daughter of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Nevada on January 4.

• Zheng Shuang files a lawsuit in Shanghai, suing Zhang Heng for borrowing 20 million yuan from high-interest loaners under her name to invest in personal business ventures.

2020, November
• Shanghai Jing’an Court rules that Mr. Zhang needs to pay back 20 million yuan ($3 million) plus overdue interest to Ms. Zheng. Zhang Heng appeals the case, arguing the money involved was never a loan but a financial compensation and advance payment for invested labor, since Zhang also acted as Zheng’s manager while they were together.

2020, December
• Zheng Shuang quits as a mentor on the Shine! Super Brothers (追光吧!哥哥) variety TV show after a clip exposing her gossiping about the past relationship of two co-stars circulated online.

2021, January 18
• Zhang posts his story on his Weibo account, stating he is stranded in the United States to take care of his two young children, implying Zheng has abandoned the babies. He also posts a photo of him with the two children.

• A voice recording in which Zheng talks about what to do with her unborn children surfaces in Chinese media, along with the birth certificates. The topic explodes on Chinese social media.

2021, January 19
• Zheng Shuang posts a reply to the matter on her own Weibo account, in which she is vague and evasive about the issue concerning the children. She implies that Zhang has “ulterior motives.” She later adds that Zhang cheated on her in the fall of 2019.

• In light of all controversy, Italian fashion brand PRADA cuts ties with Zheng Shuang, with whom they had a cooperation agreement. Zheng was announced as one of the brand’s new Chinese ambassadors earlier in 2021.

• London jewelry brand Lola Rose deletes all content including Zheng from their social media.

• Harper Bazaar deletes a feature on Zheng Shuang from their social media.

• Chinese cosmetic brand Chioture also posts a statement on Weibo saying it has terminated its contract with Zheng Shuang, who formerly was a spokesperson for the company.

• The second hearing of the Zheng versus Zhang lawsuit takes place in a Shanghai court over the disputed loan. Zhang and Zheng are both represented by their lawyers. (No news on outcome yet).

• State broadcaster CCTV condemns surrogacy in a post on Weibo.

• Zheng Shuang appears in public in Beijing, where she is followed by paparazzi. She does not respond to any questions, but her appearance still goes viral on social media with over 640 million views (#郑爽风波后首现身#).

2021, January 20
• Huading Awards announces it will revoke the honorary titles of Zheng Shuang, renouncing Zheng’s former awards as best actress and favorite TV star. Over 2.2 million people ‘liked’ this update on Weibo (#华鼎奖取消郑爽荣誉称号#).

• China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television officially shuts out Zheng Shuang.

• The Weibo hashtag “Birth Certificates of Zheng Shuang and Zhang Heng’s Children” (#郑爽张恒孩子出生证明#) reaches a staggering 4 billion views.

2021, March 22
• The hearing for the supposed dissolution of Zheng and Zhang’s marriage is scheduled to take place in Denver, US.

 

Surrogacy Abandonment


 

Although the timeline of events leading to the current situation might suggest that Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang are both at fault for handling matters in an irresponsible way, it is Zheng’s “surrogacy abandonment” that mostly triggers the public’s anger on social media.

Many people feel that Zheng Shuang is lacking morals for abandoning her children and call her “cold-blooded.” There are also those who think the actress has serious mental problems. Despite all backlash, Zheng still has a strong fan base with people who still support her.

The scandal has sparked more discussions on the issue of surrogacy in China, which already was a big topic earlier in January when a story came out on a baby born through surrogacy who had no birth certificate and no legal registration (link here).

Although surrogacy is officially not legal in China, there is a flourishing underground surrogacy market, and many couples who are struggling with fertility issues travel overseas for surrogacy arrangements. It is not clear why Zheng and Zhang used surrogates to have children.

On Weibo, many people speak out against surrogacy practices, arguing that having children is not a business and surrogacy puts vulnerable women at increased risk of exploitation.

The hashtag “Firmly Oppose All Forms of Surrogacy” (#坚决反对一切形式的代孕#) received over 290 million views and thousands of comments.

One person commented: “Children are not a commodity you can buy, sell, or return. They’re a life-long responsibility, they are the future of our society.”

 
This story will be updated following the latest developments.
 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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China Arts & Entertainment

“Not Just a Style, But a Mission” – China’s Online Hanfu Movement

What started with a 2003 internet sensation grew into a massive movement – Hanfu is booming on Weibo and beyond.

Things That Talk

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Chinese traditional clothing trend named Hanfu 汉服 first became noticeable as a popular social phenomenon in mainland China. Throughout the years, Hanfu has gone from a fashion style to a full-fledged movement that is flourishing on Chinese social media. Koen van der Lijn reports.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

This last Christmas, Hanfu was once again a trending topic on Weibo. Enthusiasts of the traditional Chinese clothing trend posed online in their Christmas inspired Chinese clothing.

It was yet another development in the Hanfu Movement, which has been a hot topic with hundreds of hashtags and thousands of pictures, videos, and stories on Weibo, with the official Weibo Hanfu @微博汉服 account boasting a whopping 1.8 million followers and a Weibo ‘supertopic’ on Hanfu being joined by nearly half a million fans.

“You can also wear Hanfu during Christmas,” post and images by @弥秋君 on Weibo.

One example of the manifold of Hanfu content on Weibo is a video recently posted by Chinese actress Xu Jiao (徐娇). In the short video, which is an advertisement by the e-commerce platform RED (小红书), the actress wears Hanfu in various settings while talking about the meaning behind the fashion. Xu Jiao, being 23 years of age, is part of Generation Z (mid-1990s – early 2010s), who are adept users of social media and make up the mass of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Screenshot of video posted by Xu Jiao 徐娇

Though Hanfu enthusiasts seldomly go out on the streets whilst wearing the clothing style,1 Hanfu sales have been increasing a lot over the past few years.2 Possibly linked to the popularity of Chinese costume dramas, many Chinese youth have started to wear Hanfu in the past two decades. However, it is not just a form of cosplay or a new clothing style. As Xu Jiao says herself in the video: “It’s not just a style, it’s a mission.”

 

Background of the Hanfu Movement


 

It was November 2003 when Wang Letian walked the streets of Zhengzhou in Hanfu. News of his action rapidly spread over the internet through websites such as hanminzu.net.3

Besides online discussions, an article was also written about Wang Letian’s bold move in the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, helping spread word about the young man’s actions. This moment was seen as the start of the Hanfu Movement.

Wang Letian in the Lianhe Zaobao of November 29, 2003.

Now, roughly twenty years later, the wearing of Hanfu has developed into a true movement, with many young Chinese participating in the wearing of the traditional Chinese dress. Especially on college campuses, the trend is very much alive.

In its most basic idea, the Hanfu Movement can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. The emphasis on the Han ethnicity is of importance here. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population in China, accounting for more than 90% of China’s total population. However, aspects famous outside China for being typically Chinese, such as the queue, are actually of Manchu origin.

The Manchus are an ethnic group from Northeastern China, showing cultural similarities to the Mongols, who ruled China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Their clothing style has influenced foreign perceptions of China, due to the fact that the Manchus were the ruling class in the last Chinese imperial dynasty.

Image via https://shop60421556.taobao.com/.

Hence the emphasis on the Han ethnicity. Central to the Hanfu Movement is the idea that ethnic Han clothing, as worn during Han Chinese ruled dynasties, such as the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD), the Tang dynasty (618-907), and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), has much value in its own and should be worn and appreciated by contemporary Han Chinese, just as the ethnic clothing of China’s minorities is appreciated in contemporary China.4

 

The Mission


 

On 4 December 2020, blogger Mi Qiujun posted a video with the hashtag #How to make the world understand Hanfu?#, (#如何让世界了解汉服#), gaining many likes and comments. Showing clips of herself wearing Hanfu in Egypt, the United States, France, and Japan, she tells how she became determined to make people around the globe understand China’s traditional culture after her clothing being wrongly identified as a Japanese kimono at her first stop in Nepal.

Mi Qiujun discusses an important aspect of the Hanfu movement. Hanfu enthusiasts feel that their ethnic clothing is not understood well enough by others, and showing the rest of the world their clothing is a true mission.

Hanfu enthusiasts have found themselves in online quarrellings about what can be defined as Hanfu, and what cannot be defined as Hanfu. It is worth noting that some scholars have disputed the existence of a uniform Hanfu throughout Chinese history.5 Instead, Hanfu is seen to have been popularised by students through the internet, without strong knowledge of Han Chinese clothing traditions.6 This makes it difficult to assess what does and what does not count as Hanfu.

Online quarrelings have therefore become part of the Hanfu Movement. In November 2020, for instance, Chinese netizens found themselves in an online discussion with their Korean neighbours. That month, Chinese actor Xu Kai (许凯) posted a photo of himself in traditional costume from the set of the Chinese drama titled Royal Feast (尚食), which is set in the Ming Dynasty.

A controversial selfie.

After South Korean web users pointed out that the traditional costume worn by Xu resembled Korean traditional clothing named Hanbok, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng (于正) posted a response on social media in which he firmly stated that this clothing was not Hanbok but Hanfu, adding that Korea was a vassal state of China at the time and that only “uncivilized people” would call it ‘Hanbok.’

 

A Nationalist Movement?


 

These kinds of discussions also show another side of the Hanfu Movement. For some Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu is more than a mission to let others understand Han ethnic culture; instead, it is a way to construct a purified Han Chinese identity, free from foreign influence.7

Girl dressed in Hanfu while visiting the Forbidden City. Photo by Manya Koetse.

This foreign influence is often linked back to the Manchus once again. ‘Uncivilised practices’ in contemporary Chinese society are attributed to the Manchus. This rhetoric reinforces the belief of Han supremacy, which has existed long before the invention of the internet, where the ‘civilized’ Han Chinese believe themselves to be superior to the ‘uncivilized’ barbarians, such as the Manchus.

This rise in Han Chinese nationalism started in the past few decades.8 The Hanfu Movement thus has followers who are a part of this new turn, where Han Chinese want to restore the glory of their past and turn away from Western and Manchu influences.9

These hardcore Han nationalists are but a small part of the movement. The Hanfu Movement encompasses a large and diverse group of people, who all share a certain belief that Hanfu should gain more appreciation in China and abroad. These are, for instance, some of the comments under Xu Jiao’s video:

– “(…) Xu Jiao speaks for Hanfu!!” (@怪物与约翰)

– “Do not be afraid to doubt, never forget the original intention, Hanfu is a style, it’s a mission, it’s culture, and it’s an attitude.” (@打翻废纸篓)

– “I am so thankful we have you! I really like your work and your attitude towards Hanfu!” (@小瓦肯Shail)

What connects most Hanfu enthusiasts then? Hanfu enthusiasts take pride in wearing Hanfu, and they wear Hanfu simply because they like wearing it. Moreover, they believe it to be important to make others, both in and outside China, gain a deeper understanding of Han Chinese ethnic culture. Hanfu is more than a fad. It is a subculture, it is a style, and for Xu Jiao and many others, it is their mission.

 
By Koen van der Lijn

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. A story focused on the background of the Hanfu Movement and objects associated with this movement has previously been published on Things that Talk, go check it out!
 

Notes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Buckley, Chris, and Katrina Northrop. 2018. “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe.” New York Times, Nov 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/china-hanfu-gowns-clothing.html [Jan 16 2021].
2 Zhou Xing 周兴. 2020. “Report: Hanfu turnover on Taobao platform exceeded 2 billion yuan in 2019 [报告:2019年淘宝平台上汉服成交金额突破20亿元].” Dianshangbao, August 2 2020 https://www.dsb.cn/124836.html [Jan 16 2021].
3 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
4 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
5 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
6 Zhang Xian 张跣. 2009. “‘Hanfu Movement’: Ethnic Nationalism in the Internet Age [“汉服运动”:互联网时代的种族性民族主义].” Journal of China Youth University for Political Sciences (4): 65-71.
7 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
8 Dikötter, Frank. 2001. “Nationalist Myth-making: The Construction of the Chinese Race.” Human Rights in China, 27 April https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4573 [16 Jan 2021].
9 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Featured image: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

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